In our Facebook Outreach Group, we were presented with this question:
How should Paul’s conversion be interpreted? It doesn’t seem like much of a choice at first glance – but that God showed up and said “you’re mine.”
Here are the various responses:
1. He said he was not disobedient to the heavenly vision (free will).
2. God taking it upon Himself to introduce Himself to someone isn’t a conversion. The per se conversion occurred and revealed itself in Paul’s response.
2a. So God doesn’t kick in the door?
2b. Another great example of God introducing Himself was the burning bush. Although Moses did require additional convincing.
2c. God had been working on Paul long before the Damascus road experience. Based on His foreknowledge God had chosen Paul to become an Apostle called out of due season. Paul had not been taught by Christ personally like the other Apostles. Paul is not only called to conversion but to Apostleship to the Gentiles. God reveals himself to Paul in unusual ways and instructs him in unusual ways but Paul’s responses are his own even though his prevenient grace is unusual.
3. I think that is reading too much into the narrative. Here is something Brian Abasciano wrote a while back in response to the same sort of question:
“I believe Paul did have the ability to resist God in his Damascus Road experience. At the very best for the contention that he could not have done so, it is speculation whether he could or not. The text certainly does not indicate that he could not. On the other hand, I would say that Paul actually does imply that he could have disobeyed the vision. In Acts 26:19, he says, “So then, King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the vision from heaven.” Telling someone you were not disobedient to something without provocation to do so seems to imply that you could have been disobedient to it. If I had replied to you, “As you can see, I have not ignored your email to me, . . .” that would imply that I could have ignored your email. Rhetorically, what that sort of thing does is emphasize one’s obedience by using the fact that one could have done otherwise.”
I would add that the Israelites often experienced incredible manifestations of God and yet continued to rebel against Him, so it seems we have no real basis for correlating a powerful vision of God with irresistible response.
4. Paul wasn’t saved until he prayed and sought God after being blinded.
5. Paul was exposed to Christians and their witness repeatedly. God had, through prevenient grace, been convicting Paul of the truths of the Gospel and drawing him to repent and believe in Christ. Paul had been having a hard time resisting the truth of the Gospel. It was hard for him “to kick against the pricks.”
6. I agree with the preceding comments, but I’d like to add three things…
(1) For God to use *external* means to convert Saul of Tarsus to Christ, does not prove a Calvinist’s assertion of God using *internal* means of “forcible regeneration upon the unbelieving.”
(2) Paul tells us why God did it. He says that God knew that he [Paul] had acted in ignorance.
(3) Even if God used “overwhelming means” to secure the conversion of Saul of Tarsus, to the point where conversion was rendered certain, how would the raising-up of one man to apostleship, for the greater benefit of humanity in spreading the gospel to all men, establish a bifurcation of elect vs. non-classes of humanity? At most, it would only speak of what God was doing in the life of *that one individual person*, in terms of how God would bless “all the families of the earth” through him, fulfilling in one man, God’s purpose in the election of the Jews as His witness nation.
7. Whaddyathink? Does the Arminian answer satisfy your curiosity?
Response from questioner: Yes these were helpful! Sometimes I need help digging below the surface.
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